University of Georgia Special Collections Libraries
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The Old College Compendium

ca.1875

The Earliest Known Photograph, ca. 1875

For over two hundred years Old College has been the center of campus - providing dormitory and boarding house space, classrooms, administrative offices, dining facilities, fortification and even a safe harbor for the U.S. Navy.

In honor of the October 13, 2006 celebration of its recent renovations, University Archives assembled this chronological compendium of documents, illustrations and facts from the building's first two centuries. Please click on any blue colored links for more information, returning to this page with your browser's back button.

1800-1801 : The Vision and the Plan

On November 27, 1800 fifteen years after the adoption of the University of Georgia Charter established the concept of a state university, the Senatus Academicus, at that time the senior governing body of the University of Georgia, specified in its Minutes, "...that a Committee consisting of five be appointed by this board, who or a majority of them, are authorised to receive sealed proposals, and contract for the building a wing of the University sufficient for the accommodation of One hundred students."

It would take until mid-1801, with further deliberations, site visits and balloting, to decide on the exact location to place the "wing", at which point the building program could enter its planning phase.

1801-1804 : Major Construction on the Frontier

It was one thing to plan one of the largest buildings on the Georgia frontier, but quite another to build it. Bricks and lumber could be made locally, but mortar, ironwork and glass all had to be hauled in. Over the next several years the Minutes of the Trustees and other sources document the slow process of accumulating and consuming supplies in the building of Old College.

1806 : The Building Completed: "...a beautiful village containing one of the most valuable Collegiate buildings in the United States..."


As small details were completed, news of the new structure was published and it assumed its place in campus operations.


By May of 1805 the western half of Old College was completed and the structure was placed on the first map of the new village of Athens, appearing in the Minutes of the Trustees. As small details were completed, news of the new structure was published and it assumed its place in campus operations. High on the north wall of the building is a large marble plaque that we suspect was carved for the building when it was new. Given the renovations of the past two centuries, it well may be the only part of Old College's exterior that actually dates back to the time of Josiah Meigs.

With pride, the Trustees named the building Franklin College in honor of Benjamin Franklin in their Minutes of May 31, 1805. Though the name Franklin became synonymous for a time with the University and eventually was chosen as the name of the College of Arts and Sciences, the written record shows that the building itself was rarely, if ever, called Franklin College after the naming. It is pleasing to think that this oversight somewhat is corrected as the building becomes the new home of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in 2006.



1808: House Cleaning Time

Even a new building requires work, especially if one of its uses is to serve as a dormitory. The Minutes of the Board of Trustees for June 7, 1808, report, "The prudential Committee having reported verbally that they have examined the rooms of the college, and the situation of the house, and that they find many of them foul and much out of repair - It is ordered, that Mr. Hull, Chairman of the prudential Committee be requested to employ some fit and proper person or persons to clean and scour out the rooms, and make such repairs as may be deemed necessary - to have good strong locks put upon the doors, glass in the sashes, and the windows fastened down so as to prevent them from being opened from without....". The situation had not improved by 1816, when the Minutes of July 26 note: "...this board, having received with Concern, the frequent and gross delapidations of the College Edifice, and the general want of decency and cleanliness in the halls, and in the occupied as well as unoccupied rooms, Resolved that the President and Professors use their utmost vigilance to prevent those mischiefs so offensive to Strangers, and so pernicious to the health of the Students... ... to make the Students responsible for any injuries which may be done to the rooms occupied by them respectively, and that injuries done to the vacant rooms and Halls Shall be repaired by a general tax on all Students in College, unless the person or persons doing the mischief Shall be discovered..."

1811-1812 : The High Cost of Porches or Always Get An Estimate

In August, 1811, the Board of Trustees decided to have "...Porticos made over the outer doors of every section or quarter of the building of such extent as will secure the several passages in the building on both sides..." But on May 15, 1812, when Col. Thomas Carnes presented his "...one hundred and Seven dollars, Sixty Six and three fourths Cents..." bill for building two porches on the south side of the building the Board felt the charge was excessive. They specified that an appraisal be done by two representatives, one chosen by the Board and one chosen by Col. Carnes. Evidently the Board lost as they agreed to pay the bill in full at their July 19 meeting, adding sourly, "That the President be and he is hereby Authorized and instructed to prohibit any attempt at erecting Porches before the North doors of the college until a Contract for that purpose be made under the authority of the present board of Trustees."

1812-1815 : A Night of (Modest) Terror in "Fort Old College"

In its earliest days Athens was located only a few miles from the Cherokee nation and not too much farther from that of the Creeks. Relations with the Cherokee in particular were friendly. Frontier tensions increased when war broke out with Great Britain in 1812. Early in the conflict a rumor spread through the area that a Native American raiding party was approaching Athens. Old College was pressed into service as a fort, filled with local citizens seeking refuge and was protected by armed faculty and students under the leadership of Professor William Green (right). Fortunately for Athens and the University volunteers, the rumors were simply rumors. The events were recalled by a participant, Dr. Henry Hull, in Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901.

1819 : A Thousand Torches Welcome the President

In 1819, President James Monroe (left) toured the South. The Georgia Journal for June 1, 1819 reported on his visit to Athens, culminating in a torchlight gathering on campus, "At 8 o'clock in the evening, the students of the College, animated with the same sentiments of affection and respect for the chief magistrate of the Union, which had characterized the proceedings of the citizens, prepared an illumination of the College, intended as a demonstration of their sincere regard for his venerated character. The President and his suite together with all the inhabitants of the village attended this splendid scene, and from the number of lights displayed, being nearly a thousand, so arranged as to produce an unusual brilliancy, combined with the motive which gave rise to such an exhibition inspired sensations which were better felt than can possibly be described."


1821 : That University of Georgia Look

In 1821 the University gained its second major brick structure, Philosophical Hall (today Waddell Hall). Also a Federal-styled structure, Philosophical Hall echoed the look of Old College in having a low-pitched roof and a circular gable ventilator. The circular ventilators on Old College were replaced with diamond-shaped openings in 1908.

Philosophical (Waddell) Hall, 1821 Old College, prior to 1908 remodeling

 

1824 : More than a Little Maintenence

By 1824 "New College" had been constructed and "Old" was appended to the original "Collegiate Building." Old College was showing its age as a committee reported in the Trustees Minutes for the meeting of August 2, " ...on inspecting the old College Building, they find many material and important repairs have been affected on that edifice by the Prudential committee. The foundation, which was in a situation to leave the whole building insecure has been repaired and left to appearance in safety. The walls had become cracked in wide fissures and were warped and sprung from their proper vertical position. The fissures are closed by removing the broken bricks and lime mortar. In addition to this and to give a more permanent security to the walls the committee have had fixed two belts of iron bars to go round the house fastened and united together at the corners of the house by screws to keep the four walls in 'status quo'."

1820-1860 Famous Residents (and others) in the Dormitory

Many of the University's noteworthy graduates must have spent some of their time in Athens living in Old College dormitory rooms, but two of the most noted were Georgia politician and Vice-President of the Confederate States, Alexander Stephens (left) and the discoverer of anesthesia, Dr. Crawford W. Long (right). The room they shared on the north side of the building is marked with a plaque. long No doubt both Stephens and Long were quiet and studious, but such was often far from the case with Old College residents. E. Merton Coulter's classic study, College Life in the Old South recounts various stories of campus disruption, many of which conclude with miscreants being chased back to Old College by patrolling faculty.

Alexander Stephens Dr. Crawford W. Long

 

1840-1854 : The First Views

The earliest known view of Old College appears in the background of George Cooke's 1840's painting, View of Athens from Carr's Hill, that hangs in the Hargrett Library. While in color, Cooke's use of athmospheric perspective blurrs the image. A photograph of the complete work can be found on the Selections from the Hargrett page devoted to pictures of Athens.

In May of 1854 the earliest detailed view of Old College and the campus appeared in Gleason's Pictorial and Drawing Room Companion. Although the artist has taken some liberties with the chimneys, its depiction is fairly accurate. The complete illustration and the accompanying text from Gleason's can be viewed in the University Archives Exhibit Hall.We hope that yet unrecognized early drawings exist in someone's attic and that an ancestor's sketchbook eventually will emerge showing an even earlier campus.



1861-1865 : Blind Soldiers and Refugees

As students were drawn off by the war, they were replaced by refugees on campus. According to the Trustees Minutes for June 30, 1864, "On application from the authorities of the confederate Government, the use of most of the University Buildings has been granted for an Ophthalmic Hospital, reserving under our control the Library Edifice and the new College." Faculty member William Henry Waddell (left) wrote on June 19, 1864, "Mr. Porter wrote that... the college would be reopened in September... I don't see how they can open the college with the Dormitories full of blind soldiers and Refugees."





1882-1900 : Summey Boys, Yahoos, Mayhem, and Biscuits

With soldiers and refugees gone and the interior put back into rough order, Old College resumed its career as a residence hall. In his massive history of the University of Georgia, Thomas Reed wrote of his student life in Old College in the 1880's when it was under the management of the Summeys. Reed discusses the inadequate facilities, student pranks and food. Comments on cuisine include his noted essay on the immortal Summey House biscuit.




1901-1908 : Old College at the Edge of Extinction!

At the age of 100, the venerable building was in danger. It stood abandoned with broken windows (left), its mortar was crumbling, and, even worse, it stood in the way of bold and ambitious 20th century plans for the University. As demolition, relocation and bizarre remodeling were threatened, alumni rallied to save Athen's oldest building. Thanks to men such as Tom Reed and other Summey and Yahoo boys, Old College received a major restoration to start its second century.

1920-1942 : Domitory Life and the Myrna Loy War


With solid walls and the new luxury of inside plumbing, Old College settled back into its life as a dormitory. That is not to say that life as a dormitory lacked drama. For example, Dean William Tate, writing of his own student years at UGA, described the thrilling events of the Myrna Loy pinup war, ca 1928. For once Old College was not the building with the broken windows - don't mess with those sophomores and if you do, watch out for chemical warfare and wear protective headgear.




1942-1945 : Anchors Aweigh!

With the outbreak of World War II, much of the campus was turned over to the U.S. Navy to serve as a Pre-Flight School for potential pilots. With the Navy piped aboard, buildings were renamed after U.S. warships and Old College become the "Ranger" for the duration. As part of its "cruise", Old College's interior was removed and converted to its current configuration.

1945- : Administration Central

After the Navy departed, Old College's dormitory days were over and as it became the central administration building, housing the President's office. While this guaranteed good upkeep for the building, its lack of a modern HVAC system led to its defacing by window air conditioning units and, even worse, grills for room units set into holes cut in the walls. Although the Office of the President and others moved to other buildings as the University expanded, Old College remained the busy hub of many administrative operations.



1973 : University Treasures from the Basement

When the University Archives and Records Management program was organized in 1973, many of the University's documents emerged from storage in the basement of Old College. Although certainly not an ideal archival environment, Josiah Meigs built his basement well (and dry) and the papers were well preserved. In tribute, Archives has adopted the 1854 Gleason's Magazine image of Old College for its webpage logo in 2002.

2001 : Teaching Under the Trees

For the bicentennial commemoration of the first classes taught at the University, President Michael Adams dressed as Josiah Meigs and presented a class, as shown in this photograph from Georgia Magazine. Old College, little more than a foundation during the original 1801 class, served as the modern backdrop.

2006 : Renaissance

Two hundred years after its completion, the tell-tale signs of repair once again appeared at Old College - offices were vacated, sidewalks were blocked, chain-link fence blossomed. Old College has again been renovated. Gone are the disfiguring ventilators and a new roof protects the venerable beams of the roof. In fitting tribute to Benjamin Franklin, the neglected namesake of the building, the new tenant is the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Like General Smith in Poe's The Man Who Was Used Up, little of what is seen of Old College is original. Yet the building has been a constant presence at the crest of the north campus lawn since the days when the Cherokee traveled a few miles east from their nation to trade with students and display their archery below Old College's rising brick walls.




On the north facade of the building remains the marble tablet that Josiah Meigs may have placed in the optimism that his "most valuable Collegiate building" would be the start of a great educational institution. Along with the restored building, the tablet reminds us of the ideals and vision of the founders of the University and the work done to advance the University of Georgia by over two centuries of students, staff, faculty and citizens.


All images on the Hargrett site are either protected by copyright law, or are the property of the University of Georgia Libraries, Hargrett Library. Permission to publish must be obtained from both the Hargrett Library, and/or the legal copyright holder. See: Permission to Publish